By Meghan Keneally
Published October 17th 2006 in The Georgetown Hoya
More than 3,500 students participated in last Thursday’s GUSA referendum, voting overwhelmingly to amend the Student Association’s Constitution and change the structure of the GUSA Assembly.
The amendment garnered the support of just over 3,000 students, or 87 percent of those who voted. Around 300 students opposed the amendment, while 168 did not vote on the measure.
The amendment replaces the current Assembly, where each class elects four at-large members, with a Senate whose 35 members are elected from geographically drawn districts on campus. The changes go into effect immediately, and elections for the new Senate will be held Oct. 27.
GUSA’s triumph at the ballot box marks the first time the GUSA Constitution has been successfully amended through the constitutional process, which requires that one-quarter of students — around 1,500 — vote in favor. Previous proposals had passed the student body, but were rejected for not meeting that requirement.
Matt Stoller (COL ’08), GUSA’s deputy chief of staff and the principal architect of the amendment, said that it would make GUSA “more conducive to student interest.”
The amendment gives the new Senate a Finance and Appropriations Committee, which is charged with appropriating the Student Activities Fee among the group of boards that fund most student organizations on campus. The committee will be composed of seven Senators and a representative from each of the advisory boards.
Assembly Chair Christina Goodlander (COL ’07) said that the Constitution would “turn the Assembly into an institution and give it institutional power.” The Assembly has recently been viewed as GUSA’s less powerful branch.
The amendment also implemented instant run-off voting in GUSA elections, which allows voters to order their preferences among candidates and narrows the field until one candidate has a majority, and implemented simplified election bylaws for Senate elections.
In a move that likely increased student interest in the vote and contributed to the unprecedented voter turnout, GUSA allowed voters to weigh in on the new alcohol policy under consideration by Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson that would ban kegs in on-campus housing.
Students overwhelmingly rejected the ban, voting 9-1 against it.
“The number of responses that we had was obviously very large,” said GUSA President Twister Murchison (SFS ’08). “That is a testament to how galvanized students were to the keg ban issue, which had a direct relation to the representation of students on campus.” Murchison has come out against the proposed ban.
Martha Swanson, the director of student programs, said she was “astounded” by the turnout. She said that the new voting server that GUSA used, Key Form, may have contributed to the higher turnout because it gave students a direct link to the voting site from a broadcast e-mail.
GUSA leaders also waged a very public campaign to encourage students to vote on election day, including volunteers that advertised the referendum in residences, advertisements on Facebook and voting stations at laptops in Leavey Center and O’Donovan Hall.
“Personal contact was so important,” said Mariclaire Petty (SFS ’08), director of operations.
Those laptop stations evoked memories of February’s disputed presidential election. Murchison’s opponent, Khalil Hibri (SFS ’07), was disqualified from that contest because he and running-mate Geoff Greene (SFS ’07) solicited votes at laptops in violation of GUSA election bylaws. Those bylaws apply only to executive elections, however, not constitutional referenda.
The Election Commission will now have to work quickly to implement a new voting system that allows students to vote based on where they live on campus in time for election day.
Election Commissioner Alison Noelker (COL ’07) said that the commission would be working closely with GUSA to educate students about the new voting procedures.
“In the long term it’s going to be a very good change, but in the short term it’s going to take effort from everyone,” Noelker said.
Stoller said that the new bylaws for Senate elections would help the election run more smoothly.
“The existing bylaws were so convoluted, and resulted in people that didn’t want to run or were disqualified for the stupidest reasons,” Stoller said. “We want to get the most people involved in student government.”
The 12 current members of the Assembly will be automatically elected to the new Senate from the districts where they currently reside. It remains to be seen if candidates will file to run for the Senate in all open districts on campus.
“That will be very interesting to see,” Swanson said of the upcoming election. She also noted that some classes could be underrepresented in the new Senate if members of one class were elected disproportionately around campus.
“Classes have different issues,” she said.